Category Archives: Spiritual Thirst

O Come, O Come Emanuel…., Part 3 on the Mother of God, The Holy Manifestation of her Virtue, The Incarnation of the Word


The Nativity Icon

The Nativity Icon

Happy Holidays! Blessed Nativity!

“O come, O come Emanuel! Held ransom captive Israel. That mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appears. Rejoice! Rejoice Emanuel shall come to thee O Israel.”

We are awaiting the Incarnation of the Word, as Mary did so many years ago. St. Nickolai Velomirovic will be giving us his inspiring words about the ‘vesture’ the Mother of God wove for herself in preparation for the coming of the Messiah….

“This, the most holy Mother of God, is the King’s daughter. ‘Her clothing is wrought of gold.’ This is the virtue of her soul. That ‘vesture’, is understood as virtue, is clear from the parable of the marriage of the King’s son. The man who was not clad in a wedding garment was driven from the King’s table and punished (Matt. 22:11). True faith in God was the golden clothing of the most holy Virgin, and virginity, meekness, compassion, holiness and prayer, consecration to the will of God and all the other virtues were like embroideries on this golden clothing. All her beauty was the work of Christ the Lord, hidden within her and born of her.

‘Consecration to the will of God’ is what touched my heart in this passage. What could I newly consecrate to God this Christmas? What little corner of my stubborn will could I change and offer to Jesus for all He gave to me?

The soul of each faithful Christian is like the King’s daughter. All the beauty of such a soul is in Christ and of Christ, Who is within the soul. A soul without Christ, the Son of righteousness, is in darkness, with neither form nor comeliness, as the whole universe would be without form and beauty without the physical sun.”

St. Nickolai Velomirovic, The Prologue, October 23

‘The soul of each faithful Christian is like the King’s daughter. All the beauty of such a soul is in Christ and of Christ, Who is within the soul.’ What beautiful words! Dear Mother of God help us and guide us to weave our vesture of virtue and spiritual beauty. Mary struggled all her life for virtue and wove a wonderful garment for her soul. She then brought forth the Sacred Fruit of our salvation. Our struggles for virtue can also bring forth many fruits.

To help us transition with Mary to the Incarnation of the Word I chose a passage from the Life of Mary regarding the icon of the Nativity, which upon closer examination, as interpreted by St. Gregory of Nyssa, can help us enter more deeply into the mystery of the Incarnation:

“The dark background of the nativity icon in the cave can be explained by a homily attributed to St. Gregory of Nyssa, where he compares the Birth of Christ in a cave and the spiritual light shining forth in the shadow of death that encompassed mankind. ‘Thus, the black mouth of the cave symbolically means the world, stricken with sin through man’s fault, in which the ‘Sun of righteousness’ shone forth.

The place where Mary brought forth virginally and painlessly was an empty and uninhabited place. It could be compared to the wilderness, as depicted in the Nativity icon. The world did not accept Him, but the wilderness offered refuge.

Taking refuge as Mary did prior to the birth of Christ, we go into the cave of our heart. There we indwell our prayers and the words, ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me’.

I know keeping our mind on prayer is so hard for many of us this time of year as we draw closer to Christmas. There is so much to do, but as St. Theophan the recluse shared with us in my last podcast: ‘Secret meditation sets our feet on the path of inner prayer, which is the most direct road to salvation. We may leave all else and turn to this work and all will be well. Conversely, if we fulfill all other duties and neglect this one task we shall bear no fruit.’

Our indwelling of prayer welcomes Christ and offers Him a refuge in our hearts – where – by the grace of God – we are waiting for Him to be born. So let us remain faithful in our hearts to the ‘one thing needful’. I know for those of us that are more Martha than Mary – especially as we prepare for Christmas – this is a hard thing to remember. The presents and food are not what is essential.

Back St. Gregory…

It was there, in Bethlehem, the ‘House of Bread’, that the symbol of the Eucharist was given–manna. Now, He who rained manna upon his people, Israel, Himself has become the bread of the Eucharist. The wilderness will also offer the manger where He chose to lie, thereby symbolizing the Lamb upon the altar. The cave, the manger, the swaddling clothes are indications of the emptying or kenosis of the Godhead, His utter abasement and humility.

The emptying or kenosis of the Godhead prefigures our self-emptying in preparation to receive Christ in our hearts this Nativity and whenever we receive His Divine Body and Blood. How blessed we are! What a joy it is to commune with our Lord in so many ways! What a divine communion, what love and grace, what incomparable joy our dear Panagia was blessed to experience carrying our Lord in her womb and then in her arms. May we too experience a little piece of this joy on Nativity!

Let us hear what St. Romanus has written in the voice of the Theotokos expressing the mystery of the incarnation of the Word and how Mary realized that in giving her will to God she not only remained who she was, but became so much more of her true self. May this to be true for us as we offer our humble selves to the Lord:

“Thou art my fruit, Thou art my life: from Thee have I learned that I remain what I was. Thou art my God: for seeing the seal of my virginity unbroken, I proclaim Thee to be the unchangeable Word, now made incarnate. I have known no seed, and I know that Thou art the destroyer of corruption: for I am pure, yet thou hast gone forth from me. As Thou hast found my womb, so Thou hast left it. Therefore, all creation shares in my joy and cries with me: rejoice, thou who art full of Grace.” St. Romanus

Dear Panagia, help us to stay in our hearts in prayer as we await the coming of the Messiah…

“O come, O come Emanuel! Held ransom captive Israel. That mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appears. Rejoice! Rejoice Emanuel shall come to thee O Israel.”

May you have a blessed Christmas!

To honor of this holy season I will be taking a short vacation for the month of January returning to the air and my blog mid-February. For those of you who are new listeners or missed my earlier podcasts – this is a perfect time to catch up!

Thank you so much for tuning in.

God bless you and Happy New Year as well!

In Christ,

Veronica

Mary, the First Hesyachist – Part II – “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart”


Mary, the First Hesyachist

Part II

“But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart”

While in the womb of the Advent Fast, awaiting the birth of Christ, let us enter into the prayer life of the Theotokos, whom St. Gregory Palamas called the first hesyachist and reflect on the value of secret meditation of the heart, which Mary pioneered. “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Lk. 2:19)

My resources for this podcast are:

The Life of the Virgin Mary, The Theotokos

Holy Apostles Convent with quotes from St. Gregory Palamas

The Art of Prayer, compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo

Quotes from St. Theophan the Recluse

Elder Joseph

From the Life of Mary quoting St. Gregory Palamas

“The sojourn of the Virgin Mary in the temple is described by St. Gregory Palamas in terms that make Mary the model of the hesychastic life. Extolling constant prayer, the saint indicates that the Virgin was the first to take it upon herself to pray unceasingly. According to St. Gregory her asceticsim therein did not lead her to come to an understanding of the grace received from the time of her conception, but to learn more of the nature of the sins of Adam. It was there that she perceived and realized that ‘no one could halt the murderous rush, which was bearing away the human race.’

Thus she was filled with pity for people who were brought to ruin and condemnations for disobedience. Therefore, she resolved to have her heart, mind and soul to dwell on God, and endeavored to remain attentive and struggle in prayer. She would pray for the human race and God’s great mercy.

She understood the most excellent way to converse with God was through holy silence and silence of the mind. Hence, she withdrew from the world and put away all earthly things. Through this, by God’s grace, she pioneered a new path to God, the path of silencing the thoughts. Abiding in prayer day and night, and maintaining silence, she cleansed her heart and was inexpressibly united with God.

Rising above all creation and creatures, the all holy Virgin contemplated God’s glory more fully than did Moses, and communed with divine grace in such a way that defies words and even reason… the young virgin Mary gave herself up entirely to God and repulsed from herself every impulse to sin, yet still she felt the weakness of human nature more powerfully than others.

Therefore, she greatly desired the coming of the Savior… She became an abode of every virtue, turning her mind away from every worldly and carnal desire. This was fitting for her who was to conceive God within herself.

St. Gregory Palamas praises Mary in superlative terms, writing: ‘Today a new world and a wonderful paradise has appeared. In it and from it a new Adam is born to reform the old Adam and renew the whole world… God has kept this Virgin for Himself before all ages. He chose her from among all generations and bestowed on her grace higher than that given to all others, making her, even before her wondrous childbirth, the saint of saints, giving her the honor of His own house in the Holy of Holies… wishing to create an image of absolute beauty and to manifest clearly, to angels and men, the power of His art. God made Mary truly all beautiful… He made of her blend of all divine, angelic and human perfection, a sublime beauty embellishing the two worlds, rising from earth to heaven and surpassing even the latter.’”

We can see from these revelations given to St. Gregory that Mary developed and diligently practiced secret meditation on God in her heart, which for her led to the incarnation of God within her womb. This was Mary’s role in our salvation.

Where can the diligent practice of secret mediation of the heart lead us?

Let’s explore what St. Theophan the Recluse has to say about secret meditation of the heart…

“Gather yourself together in your heart, and there practice secret meditation. By this means, with the help of God’s grace, the spirit of God will be maintained in its true character – burning sometimes less and sometimes more brightly. Secret meditation sets our feet on the path of inner prayer, which is the most direct road to salvation. We may leave all else and turn to this work and all will be well. Conversely, if we fulfill all other duties and neglect this one task we shall bear no fruit.”

St. Theophan is telling us that secret meditation is “The one thing needful.” How do we start to dwell in our heart in prayer?

“Some Godly thoughts come nearer to the heart than others. Should this be so after you have finished your prayers, continue to remain dwelling on such a thought and feeding on it. This is the way to unceasing prayer.”

Here are some examples of what St. Theophan is talking about:

Secret meditation most often takes the form of indwelling The Jesus Prayer, prayers to our Most Holy Theotokos and other supplications to the Saints. Other Fathers have also recommended the recitation of a verse from the Psalms, a part of a prayer you love, and or hymns from church. For example: Because I am musically oriented and love to sing –I indwell hymns through out my day. Be creative, as you would with anyone you love. If you are prone to depression or despondency, it is good to indwell joyful praises to God – that bring forth gratitude, which is a good remedy for despondency.

Wouldn’t we all rather give our praises to God than negative thoughts? Our goal is to quietly and secretly please God and express our unique love towards Him.

‘Praying always with prayer and supplication in the spirit.’ (Eph. 6:18)

“Prayer must not be an occupation for a certain period of time, but a permanent state of spirit… In other words, prayer must not only be outward, but also inward, an activity of the mind in the heart. In this lies the essence of prayer, which is raising the mind and heart towards God.

It is clear that the practice of prayer is not something carried out at certain hours, but requires a permanent walking before God, a dedication of all one’s activities to Him…its secret is love of the Lord. As a bride, loving the bridegroom is not separated from him in remembrance and feeling, so the soul, united with God in love remains in constancy to Him, directing warm appeals to Him from the heart.”

St. Theophan the Recluse

“As a bride, loving the bridegroom is not separated from him in remembrance and feeling, so the soul, united with God in love remains in constancy to Him, directing warm appeals to Him from the heart.” This is what the Theotokos did! What love she developed for God! Mary can help us if we just call on her with love and faith to devote more of our day to God as did Elder Joseph who has these words to say about calling on the Panagia, our heavenly Mother:

“Embrace in your arms the icon of the Panagia as if she were alive, as you embraced your dear mother when you were little. Tell her all your pain, wet her icon with your pure tears, then you will derive consistent consolation. She will intercede with her Son, Who is so good, Who loves the good, has mercy on the bad, and forgives repenting sinners. He will open the noetic eyes of your soul and fill your heart with love and divine eros. And then your eyes will become two fountains of tears.” Elder Joseph

Glory to God and his Saints! Let us strive to use the remainder of this fasting period to incorporate a little more unceasing prayer into our daily life.

For new listeners who want to draw closer to the Mother of God in prayer this Advent, I want to extend an invitation to join me and other listeners each day in praying either an Akathist or Canon to the Mother of God. I found a lovely download of both the Akathist to the Mother of God and to Jesus for only $7.95 on Orthodox Christian Recorded Books, http://www.ocrb.org/, that I am using to help me fulfill my prayer commitment.

Since this is the Christmas Season, I also invite those of you who are looking for a unique gift for friends or family to consider giving them a copy of my book, The Pearl of Great Price, The Spiritual Journey of a New Age Seeker to the Light of Christ and the Orthodox Church through the OCN Amazon Store banner on any OCN website page. With every purchase you make on Amazon through the OCN Amazon Store you will be supporting the wonderful work of the Orthodox Christian Network.

If you want a signed copy with a spiritual thought as well, you can obtain that through my author’s website, once again, pearlofgreatpriceorthodox.com. Please make sure you order your copy from before the 12th of December for Western Christmas.

I have yet one more podcast in this series on the Drawing Closer to the Mother of God – airing mid-December.

May God continue bless you in your efforts and struggles this Advent,

In Christ,

Veronica

Faith vs. Knowledge Part 2, Podcast airing July 16th on Pearls of Great Price, OCN


 

 

Faith vs. Knowledge

Part 2

It is not that knowledge is blameworthy, but that faith is higher…

 

 

What are the distinctions in knowledge; in which degree (when knowledge returns to its primary aim – the spiritual life) it comes into its nature and by its good discipline (fasting, alms, vigils, holiness… love for one’s neighbor, humility of heart, forgiving those who have sinned, recollection of good things, investigation of the mysteries concealed in the Holy Scriptures, the mind’s occupation with good works, the bridling of the soul’s passions, and the rest of such virtues) becomes a stepping–stone for faith…. when it is that knowledge unites with faith and becomes one with it… when it is inflamed by the Spirit, acquiring the wings of dispassion; and when it is exalted above servitude to things earthly into the realm of its Creator?

If only more folks that are into seeking in the New Age and Eastern religions knew about the depth of our faith! That is why I wrote my first book, The Pearl of Great Price. Orthodoxy is the fulfillment of all my seeking thanks to saints like St. Isaac the Syrian. 

“There are three intelligible degrees in which knowledge ascends and descends…. and becomes the cause of either harm or help.

The first degree of knowledge (Common Knowledge):

When knowledge cleaves to the love of the body, it gathers up the following provisions: wealth; vainglory; honor; adornment; rest of the body; special means to guard the body’s nature from adversities; assiduity in rational wisdom, such as is suitable for the governance of the world and which gushes forth the novelties of inventions, the arts, sciences, doctrines; and all other things which crown the body in this visible world. This is called common knowledge, for it is naked of all concerns for God. And because it is dominated by the body, it introduces into the mind an irrational importance, and its concern is totally for this world.

It is not that most of us purposely exclude God, but we are so programed by our worldly knowledge that we forget about God. We think our survival is dependent on us! Part of this is true, for we need to work and be responsible in life, but how hard it is to remember that all is created and sustained by God – not us. When in our survival mode…

This measure of knowledge does not reckon that there is any noetic power and hidden steersman over a man whatsoever, nor any divine care that shelters and takes concerned for him… Nevertheless, it cannot be without continual cares and fear for the body. Therefore it is appraised to faintheartedness, sorrow, despair, fear of the demons, trepidation before men, the rumor of thieves and the report of murders, anxiety over diseases, concern over want and lack of necessities, fear of death, fear of sufferings, of wild beasts, and of other similar things that make this knowledge like a sea more turbulent by great waves at every hour of the night and day.

When we are thinking in the above manner this should be a clear tip off to us that we have stepped out of connection with God and have fallen into worldly knowledge and concerns without turning to God first.

The tree of knowledge of good and evil, the tree that uproots love, is planted in this very knowledge. In this knowledge are produced and are found presumption and pride, for it attributes every good thing to itself, and does not refer to God.

The second degree of knowledge (the knowledge of actions):

But when knowledge renounces the first degree and turns toward deep reflections on the love of the soul, then it practices the aforementioned good deeds with the help of the soul’s understanding, in co-operation with the senses of the body, in the light of the soul’s nature (this knowledge takes into account the existence of God and the soul). This knowledge makes straight the pathways in the heart which lead to faith, wherewith we gather supplies for our journey to the true age.

We are learning to act for and with God. We are being purified of that knowledge that obstructs faith – memories, beliefs and patterns of behavior that we learned.

But even so, this knowledge is still corporeal and composite; and although it is the road that leads us and speeds us on our way toward faith, yet there remains a degree of knowledge still higher than it. If it goes forward, it will find itself raised up by faith with the help of Christ… it is called the knowledge of actions, because by concrete actions, through the senses of the body, it accomplishes its work on the external level.”

I think that most of us are waging our spiritual battles in the mist of these first two degrees of knowledge. To achieve the third degree of knowledge, St. Isaac says we need to leave the world, but if we have families and work in the world, how can we do so? By entering the closet of our soul in prayer. My next several podcasts will focus on prayer and practical suggestions from the Holy Fathers about how to enter the closet of our soul and find our deep heart in Christ. Then we can begin to access…

The third degree of knowledge, which is the degree of perfection where:

“…knowledge becomes more refined, acquires that which is of the Spirit… When knowledge is raised above the earthly things and the cares of earthly activities, and its thoughts begin to gain experience in inward matters which are hidden from the eyes; and when in part it scorns the recollections of things (whence the perverseness of the passions arises), and when it stretches itself upward and follows faith in its solicitude for the future age, in its desire for what has been promised us, and in searching deeply into hidden mysteries: then faith itself swallows up knowledge, converts it, and begets it anew, so that it becomes wholly and completely spirit.

The Fathers call these stages natural, supranatural, and contranatural. These are three directions in which the memory of a rational soul travels up or down So long as a man still abides in the nature of the flesh, he is in continual transition from one (state) to another…”

I will add that as the soul travels up and down this journey in faith, we are also simultaneously experiencing purification, illumination and maybe even God given moments of theosis. I know we all would prefer to be done with our struggles, but the challenging news is that for most of us, the process of regeneration by grace will continue until our last breath. That is why we need faith and hope. We can begin to understand the process of regeneration by grace more clearly in hindsight, in God given moments of illumination and consolation we can see what God was teaching us. Then we fall back into our trials and struggles for a time with worldly knowledge and our passions. This is the cycle that is repeated over and over again until our soul is perfected in God.

But we call faith that light which dawns in the soul by grace… This faith manifests itself not by the tradition of the hearing of the ear, but with spiritual eyes it beholds the mysteries concealed in the soul, and the secret and divine riches that are hidden away from the eyes of the sons of the flesh, but are unveiled by the Spirit to those who are brought up at Christ’s table in the study of His laws. He said, ‘If ye keep My Commandments, I will send you the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, Whom the world cannot receive, and He shall teach you all truth.’

The Comforter shows a man the holy power that dwells within him at every moment, and the protection, of the noetic force that shelters him always and drives away from him all harm, that it should not touch his soul or his body. The luminous and noetic mind visibly perceives this (holy power) with the eyes of faith… This power is the Comforter Himself Who, in the strength of faith, consumes the soul as with fire. The soul then rushes forward, despising every danger because of her trust in God, and on the wings of faith she soars aloft, taking leave of visible creation… she is ever found in the awestruck wonder of solicitude for God…

Thank you St. Isaac of Syria and by your prayers may we too experience the gift of faith.

If you missed my podcast – Part 1 of Homily 52 – I encourage you to listen to it when you have the chance.

Here is the Link to the second half of the full text of Homily 52

May God bless you!

In Christ,

Veronica

Faith and Illumination, airing June 18th on OCN


IMG_0591

 

 

Faith and Illumination

The Holy Spirit has descended!

From heaven to earth!

 

 

 

 

 

In this second podcast about Faith, during the season of Holy Spirit, we will explore the relationship between faith and illumination, our regeneration in grace, and our second baptism.

My resources for this podcast are:

St. Nickolai Velimirovic, The Prologue

Remember Thy First Love, Archimandrite Zacharias

Fr. George Calciu

 

Let’s start with St. Nickolai:

‘Awake, thou that sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light’

(Eph. 5:14).

“The holy Apostle Paul, in common with all the other Christian apostles and saints, teaches all that he teaches from personal experience. For the Christian, faith is experience, not theory or human sophistry.”

We cannot convince people of our faith, rather as Fr. George Calciu, who spent 17 years in Romanian prisons says, “I had learned from experience that, people are changed only by the fire of your faith, by the dedication of your attitude to them and to God, because this is the most powerful proof.”

“Paul had lain as one spiritually asleep. He was dead in spirit while he opposed the Christian faith. But he awoke and got up and, with a risen spirit, was illumined by Christ. He could see himself in the time when he fell into spiritual sleep, then in the time when he awoke, then when he got up, then when he rose in spirit and finally when he was illumined by Christ…

The illumining of Christ is necessary to a man at the beginning as well as at the end. For, without Christ illumining, he cannot awaken or get up or rise from the dead, as neither can he later by himself live in faith or die in hope… the apostle himself received the illumining of Christ at the beginning, on the road to Damascus, then later again. The first illuminating brought him to Christ and the second established him in Christ. We all receive the first illumining at baptism, and the second through faith and the fulfilling of the commandments of the Lord.”

St. Nickolai Velimirovic, The Prologue, April 30th

Here St. Nickolai is referring to our second baptism, our regeneration by grace: the second through faith and the fulfilling of the commandments of the Lord. Fulfilling our part – is what draws the grace of the Holy Spirit to us, to allow our love of Christ to help us fight against our passions and be obedient and humble.

Back to St. Nickolai:

“The heart is apparently a small organ, but God can abide in it. And when God abides in it, it is filled to overflowing and nothing else can stand in it. If, however, the whole world were to dwell in it, without God, it would remain empty. My brethren, let Christ the risen and living Lord dwell in your hearts by faith, and your hearts will be filled to overflowing. For he can in no other way abide in your hearts other than by your faith. If you have no faith, Christ will remain only on your tongue or on paper, or on the wall or in a museum.”

Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic, The Prologue, April 21

Are there some of you that struggle with “let Christ dwell in our hearts”? I did for years.

How I prayed for years to understand “let Christ dwell in our hearts” I still struggle with keeping the fire of my faith and love for Christ before me.

Here is what Elder Zacharias says about acquiring Faith and Christ in our hearts:

“This wonderful account shows clearly how the mind of man gradually ascends to true knowledge of God once he accepts the word of Christ. First he discovers the divine power of this word and his faith is strengthened.”

Believing in the words of Christ written in the gospels and by his eye-witnesses, the apostles, opens our hearts to illumination by the Holy Spirit – often when we least expect it… Then our faith is strengthened.”

“He then accepts the truth of Christ–God, being guided by right doctrine.”

We must entreat God and his Saints to help us accept this Truth if we as of yet do not fully grasp it or lose it frequently. We must continue to ‘fight the good fight’ with our fallen nature and allow God to cleanse our nous – our spiritual inner eye…

“His inner eye is cleansed and he begins to see clearly with Whom he is in contact. Light spreads throughout his soul until his heart is flooded with the divine light of the Sun of Righteousness. He becomes a child of the day, for the Daystar has risen in his heart. He is then united to God and worships Him in spirit and in truth. With his whole heart he worships this God who has honored him with His grace, knowing that He alone is the one true God and Savior of the world.”

Remember Thy First Love, Elder Zacharias

This is the reward of our labors.

Our Lord has Risen! He has Ascended! And He has sent His Holy Spirit to us! How wonderful it is to share this joy with our neighbors – this Light in the darkness of our fallen world.

In this after season of the Holy Spirit following Christ’s Resurrection, let’s turn to Fr. George Calciu again to help us understand how to share our Faith in the Risen Lord:

“Christ is Risen! In truth He is Risen! This is the single argument we have for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We can invoke the information of the Bible: to the unfaithful it means nothing. We can speak from the Holy Fathers; again it is nothing to them. Therefore it was enough for me to say in front of the colonel, ‘Christ is Risen!’ We need no other proof. Because of just trying to prove to the colonel that Jesus really rose from the dead, I felt something wrong in my orientation. Since then I gave up trying to give proofs to the guards or to the inmates, the criminals. I had learned from experience that, people are changed only by the fire of your faith, by the dedication of your attitude to them and to God, because this is the most powerful proof.”

The convicts sent to murder Fr. Calciu found themselves converted, kneeling, weeping in their cell while Fr. Calciu was serving Divine Liturgy bathed in Uncreated Light!

Let us go forth with the Light of Christ we faithfully hold in our hearts. O Holy Spirit purify and illumine our hearts, and deepen our faith.

In Christ,

Veronica

Ps

All the photographs I post on my blog were taken by either my husband or me. If you would like to see more of our photographs and the wilderness cards we sell go to:

http://www.pearlofgreatpriceorthodox.com/pearl-wilderness-cards_280.html%5B/embed%5D

First of two podcast on Obedience and Humility, airing May 7th on OCN


Part I – Obedience

Christ is Risen! In Truth He is Risen!

 

 

 

 

 

When researching for this podcast I realized that I could not talk about humility without first speaking about obedience, for according to many of the Holy Fathers, from obedience comes humility.

“Obedience and humility go hand-in-hand. They feed and nourish one another. We cannot learn obedience without humility, and we cannot acquire humility without obedience. Together, these two virtues can take us to the very heights of spiritual perfection.”

Thirty Steps to Heaven, The Ladder of Divine Ascent for all walks of life

What does St. Paul say about this dynamic duo?

“And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even death on the cross.” Phil. 2:8

In this season of rejoicing, let us reflect on the obedience and humility of Our Lord, which freed us from sin and death, which allowed us to be resurrected in Him.

The key to unlocking our regeneration is grace hinges on these two virtues, for grace will not come to us if either obedience or humility is missing.

My resources for this:

  • My Elder Joseph the Hesychast by Elder Ephraim
  • Thirty Steps to Heaven, The Ladder of Divine Ascent for All Walks of Life by Archmandrite Vassilious Papavassilios
  • The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus

The Fruits of Obedience

My Elder Joseph the Hesychast

“Francis (the future Elder Joseph) and Father Arsenios behaved like angels towards their elders. They prepared the food, clean the house, and did whatever was necessary with joy and love. In fact, they even try to foresee what the elders would need in order to please them more. They had so much reverence for those old monks that they were even more obedient to them than children to their real parents. For this is the true meaning of obedience: to remove your ego from the center of your soul and to place God and your elder there…

For many of us who do not have an elder, our elder come in the form of those around us– our daily obedience’s – to our spouses, parents, pastors, teachers and employers with joy and love.

…It was not long before they saw the fruits of their obedience. Because of their obedience, it was natural that they found great ease in prayer. In this way, Francis realized from his own experience why the holy Fathers praised holy obedience….

Isn’t that amazing! They found great ease in prayer due to their obedience! Elder Ephrim also commented that when he first became a novice he was quite ill with beginning stages of TB. He understood though that by keeping perfect obedience if he died he would go directly to heaven! Therefore, he was not concerned about dying.

…Ever since then, Francis held holy obedience as the foremost virtue. He emphasized no other virtue more than this one. In fact, he later wrote to someone: ‘Personally, I have never seen anything more comforting in my soul than perfect obedience.’…

When Papa–Ephraim was an old man, he recollected the good old days and said: ‘O, blessed obedience! What can I tell you? When I was under obedience, I had a special kind of grace, a different kind of prayer. It was as if I were flying, for prayer springs from obedience–not obedience from prayer. Be obedient for now, and later you will acquire grace.’…

…Elder Joseph told us: ‘When a person is obedient to an elder, it doesn’t matter if the command is wrong; it will turn out well for him simply because he is being obedient. It doesn’t matter who his elder is. What good did it do Judas that he had Christ? None! … What good did it do Adam, who was in paradise, and his ‘elder’ in a sense was God? None, because he was disobedient.”

“When Grace comes to a man, it makes him God. But when it departs from him, then he is ready to fall into every heresy, every delusion, every moral deviation, and even damnation. Everything is supported by the grace of God. But Grace also has its requirements before it will dwell in man. It seeks his good intentions, his willpower, and his struggle. Together with grace, man becomes an angel. Without grace, he deviates and becomes a demon.” St. John Climacus

I know this from experience with my husband and parents. In times of great stress – when I trusted in their instructions and followed them – when I was obedient to their wishes, in spite of my fears and thoughts, things worked out in a marvelous manner – far better than I could have imagined.

From Thirty Steps to Heaven, The Ladder of Divine Ascent for All Walks of Life

Step 4 – Obedience

“…The virtue of obedience is rooted not in fearful pragmatism, but in humility. True obedience, like true love, cannot be forced–it must be free. Obedience and humility go hand-in-hand. They feed and nourish one another. We cannot learn obedience without humility, and we cannot acquire humility without obedience. Together, these two virtues can take us to the very heights of spiritual perfection…

…From obedience comes humility… and from humility comes discernment. (St. John Cassian, Conference 2.)

Take courage from this. For few are able to do something as basic and simple as to obey, then you are already on your way to learning one of the greatest and highest virtues of all: humility. People may think obedience is for children. They are right! No one is as humble as a little child. Thus no one practices obedience better than infants. Let us remember what we said in chapter 1: Children are the greatest example of what God wants us to be…

Obedience to God

It may seem blindingly obvious, but we are obedient, above all, to God. And this is expressed not only in keeping his commandments, but also in the action of prayer. Only an obedient heart can truly pray, for the end of prayer is not speaking to God, but hearing and heeding what he is saying back to us. Furthermore only a humble person can really pray, because only when we are humble do we not rely wholly on our own judgments, actions, and capabilities….

The root of the word obedience come from French, obieir or Latin, oboedire: to hear or to listen to. It is only though our obedience – that we can eventually hear God in our heart.

…for the end of prayer is not speaking to God, but hearing and heeding what he is saying back to us.

…If our obedience is sincere, it bestows upon us the peace from above. If we practice it ungrudgingly (even if we do not like what we have been asked to do), we will find inner stillness and ‘the peace of God, which passes all understanding’. Phil. 4:7

Obedience in Marriage

Obedience is part and parcel not only of monastic life, but also of married life. Husband and wife are subject to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21). They are not to seek their own will, but must subject themselves to the will of the other, for they are no longer two independent individuals, but one flesh. No marriage can work if the two do not sacrifice their own wills in loving obedience.

How well I know this after 27 years of marriage to my dear, patient husband! Until we made being obedient to God our first priority, we could not become obedient to each other. Our prayer life has helped us to trust each other and to trust that we can place our obedience with love in each other if our trust is first in God. This came out of many struggles….

St. John Climacus

For obedience is entirely foreign to the hypocrisy and one’s own will.

Obedience is the tomb of the will and the resurrection of humility.

Stay tuned for our next podcast on humility…

Christ is Risen! In Truth He is Risen!

In Christ,

Veronica

 

Whatever prompted two people with fibromyalgia to move to a wilderness mountain top?


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This is one the exquisite mountains we gaze upon from our mountain home overlooking the “Valley of the Dancing Angels (My husband gave this valley that name. When it is a cloudy day wisps of clouds float and dance in the valley resembling dancing angels.) We moved here in May to retire and deepen our spiritual life. Both my husband and I suffer from fibromyalgia and are following a medical protocol that over time will hopefully reverse most of the chronic and limiting symptoms of this disease. (For info on this protocol read: What your doctor may not tell you about Fibromyalgia, by Dr. Paul St. Amand, 3 edition. Since beginning this protocol a year and a half ago, my husband and I have seen a 50% reduction in our large visible fibro nodules, many of the smaller ones are completely gone!)

In the mean time, while attempting to tame our land, integrate a more consistent prayer regime and prepare for winter, both of us have been pushing the limits of what we can do physically. Whatever possessed me to agree to move here at the age of 60 being disabled?

I look normal until I have to sit or stand for any length of time. Then out comes my portable zero gravity recliner or memory foam pillows! I did experience a grace when we arrived here to help us accomplish our move and get through our initial struggles to settle in. But now that grace has departed.

Moving here has been a blessing and tremendous struggle for me. There were times when I just could not understand how – given my health issues – this is where I would wind up? I would get really angry with God and my husband! Yet in my heart I truly love being here.

Since we moved, I have had repeated meltdowns as my knowledge of what I could deal with came up against my husband’s faith and the fact that we are here, for better or for worse. I had some faith or I would not have agreed to this move, but it was being trampled down by my knowledge of what was reasonable for someone my age and with my health issues. I also have a terrible case of Marthaism, I get caught up in doing too much and forget the one thing needful.

Then, after the worse meltdown yet last Monday, one that I committed never to experience again, in answer to my prayer, ‘Please Lord, help me to understand what has happened to the innocent child/woman within me that wanted to live a life in the world, but not be of the world? What is hardening my heart and causing me such pain and anger? How can I regain my zeal for our task here?’, my husband read this passage and more from Homily 52 by St. Issac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies of St. Issac the Syrian.

May this reading prove to change your life as much as it changed ours/mine! Knowledge will never be able to answer those questions, but faith will!

Glory to God for all things!

Veronica Hughes

Homily 52, Knowledge vs Faith, by St. Issac the Syrian

The soul that journeys by the pathways of discipline upon the road of faith, and has often made great progress therein, if she returns once more to the ways and means of knowledge, will straightway be crippled in her faith, and will be deprived of the noetic power of faith, which with diverse forms of (divine) assistance manifests itself in a pure soul that unquestionably has recourse to it with simplicity in all her concerns.

For the soul that once and for all has surrendered herself to God in faith, and has received through much experience the taste of His help, will not take thought for herself again, but rather, she is stilled in the awestruck wonder and silence, and has no power to return to the ways and means of her own knowledge and to be engaged in them. And this is so lest, on the contrary, she should be deprived of God’s providence, which secretly shelters her unceasingly, cares for her, and everywhere cleaves to her incessantly. For the soul would be foolish to suppose herself sufficient to provide for herself on the strength of her own knowledge.

Those upon whom the light of faith has dawned are no longer so audacious as to pray for themselves; nor do they entreat God, saying, ‘Give this to us’, or ‘Take that from us.’; nor do they in any wise care for themselves. For every moment, with the noetic eyes of faith, they see the fatherly providence which comes from the true Father to shelter them: He Who in His great and immeasurable love surpasses all in fraternal affection and Who, more than all, has the power and might help us exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask, or think, or conceive.

For knowledge as opposed to faith; and faith, in all that pertains to it, is the breaking of the laws of knowledge (we do not, however, speak here of spiritual knowledge). For such is the definition of knowledge–that without investigation and examination it has no authority to do anything, but it must investigate whether that which it considers and desires as possible. But as to faith, what shall we say? If yes and no approach it at the same time, it will not be persuaded to remain in such a position.

It is well known that knowledge cannot exist without investigation and the employment of its means of operations; and this is a sign of hesitation regarding truth. But faith requires a way of thinking that a single, limpidly pure and simple, far removed from any deviousness or invention of methods. See how faith and knowledge are opposed to one another! The home of faith is a childlike thought and a simple heart. ‘ In the simplicity of their hearts,’ it says, ‘they glorified God.’ And, ‘Except ye be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of the heavens.’ But knowledge conspires against and opposes both these qualities.

Knowledge keeps within the boundaries of nature in all its paths; but faith makes its journey above nature. Knowledge does not allow itself to experience anything that is ruinous to nature, and it keeps far away from it; but faith readily submits itself to this and says, ‘Upon the asp and the basilisk shalt thou tread, and thou shalt trample upon the lion and the dragon.’ Fear accompanies knowledge; but confidence accompanies faith. The more a man journeys in the pathways of knowledge, the more he is shackled by fear and cannot be found worthy of freedom from it; but he who follows faith straightway becomes a free man and a ruler of himself, and as a son of God he freely wields all things with authority. The man who has found the keys of faith weilds all the natures of creation you can as God; for by faith comes the authority, after the likeness of God, to create a new creation.  ‘ Thou didst so well,’ it says, ‘and all things were present before Thee.’ And oftentimes, out of things that are not, faith can do all things.

But knowledge can do nothing without matter. Knowledge is not so bold as to attempt anything that has not been given to nature. How so? The liquid nature of water cannot support upon its back the footsteps of a body; the man who comes too close to fire burns himself; and whosoever should rashly oppose nature in this fashion brings himself into peril.

Knowledge watchfully guards itself from such things and will in no wise be persuaded to overstep their boundaries. But faith transgresses them with authority, saying: ‘If thou go through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, and the rivers shall not overflow thee.’ Faith has many times worked such things before the eyes of all creation. If knowledge were given the opportunity to attempt such things, it would in no wise be persuaded. For it is by faith that men have entered into the flames and bridle the burning power of the fire, walking unharmed as the midst thereof, and they have trodden upon the back of the sea as on dry land. All these are above nature and opposed to the ways and means of knowledge.

Do you see how faith has shaken the foundations of knowledge and proven it futile in all its ways and laws? Do you see how knowledge keeps within the limits of nature? Do you see how faith passes above nature in traveling on the pathway of its journey? The ways and means of knowledge governed the world for a little more or less than 5000 years, and man was in no wise able to raise his head from the earth and perceive the power of his Creator. For this was not until our faith shone forth and freed us from the gloom of earthly labors and futile slavery that seeks fruitless distraction. And now we have reached the unfathomable sea and the unfailing treasure, we desire once again to turn aside to miserable little brooks. There is no knowledge that is not needy, however rich it might be; but heaven and earth cannot contain the treasures of faith. The man whose heart is upheld by the confidence of faith will never be in want; and when he has nothing, by faith he possesses all, as it is written: ‘All things whatever you shall ask in prayer, ye shall receive’, and again, ‘The Lord is at hand, have care for nothing.’

Knowledge always seeks means to safeguard those who have acquired it. But what says faith?  ‘Except the Lord build the house and guard the city, in vain does he labor that buildeth it and watch that guardeth her.’ The man who takes refuge in faith never employs or is engaged in ways and means. For knowledge everywhere sings the praises of fear, as the man said, ‘He that feareth in his heart is blessed.’ But what says faith? ‘He was afraid and began to sink’; and again, ‘For ye have not received the spirit of bondage unto fear, but you have received the Spirit of Sonship unto the freedom of faith and trust in God; and again, ‘Fear then not, nor flee from before their face.’

Fear is always followed by doubt; doubt, by investigation; investigation, by ways and means; and ways and means, by knowledge. And in examination and investigation, fear and doubt are always made known–for knowledge does not always succeed everywhere, as we showed in the beginning. Often calamities, grievous adversities, and many occurrences filled with peril befall the soul, wherein knowledge and the devices of wisdom are utterly unable to provide help against these difficulties that defy the whole power and limit of human knowledge. But faith is never vanquished by anything. For what help can human knowledge offer in open conflicts or in war against invisible beings, against incorporeal powers, and many other things of this kind?

Do you see the feebleness of the power of knowledge and the strength of the power of faith? Knowledge prevents its disciples from approaching anything alien to nature. But see here the power of faith and what it commands its pupils: ‘In My Name,’ it says, ‘ye shall cast out demons, take up serpents, and if ye drink poison, it shall not hurt you.’

Knowledge enjoins all who journey in its path to investigate according to its laws, the end of anything before making a beginning, and thus to commence; lest the end of the thing proves unachievable by the limit of human ability, and labor be spent in vain, and lest the thing proved difficult and impossible to realize. But what says faith? ‘All things are possible to him that believeth,’ for to God nothing is impossible. O unspeakable wealth, O ocean rich in its billows and its marvelous treasures and mighty floods of power of faith! How filled with boldness, how replete with sweetness and hope is the journey accompanied by faith! How light our faith’s burdens, how sweet its labors!

Now and then….


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I am writing my sequel to the Pearl of Great Price – hopefully I will not need 9 drafts and 6 years to finish my sequel! I am amazed that when I am writing a book , I will be living similar experiences in the present that mirror what I was going through years prior that are the subject of my writing. My new book is about my struggles to reconcile my past in the light of my baptism as an Orthodox Christian, find Christ in my heart and become more deeply Eastern Orthodox in terms of my world view.

Fifteen years have past since that time. My husband and I recently moved to our home and land overlooking the “Valley of the Dancing Angels (My husband gave this valley that name. When it is a cloudy day wisps of clouds float and dance in the valley resembling dancing angels.) We felt called to be here to deepen our spiritual life and experience as Orthodox Christians. What I am struggling with now is quite similar, yet different, to what I grappled with in my early years in Orthodoxy,  Our spiritual challenges here are helping me to remember who I was back then.

Now as then, I am in a new environment. Then we moved back to San Francisco, my home town. I had not lived there for 25 years. While our land is not unknown to me, for we have spent many weekends here over the nine years it took for us to build our home, living here is quite different from visiting.

Then as now I feel my soul’s salvation close the the heart of my motivations for moving. I know a lot more about Orthodoxy now than I did in 1997-99, but for all I know, I feel as if I have begun newly to view who I am and what I am doing in the light of Christ. I feel quite humbled by the task of truly being an Orthodox Christian. I am now 60 years old. Then I was 45. Then I was literally going through the ‘change of life’. Now I am looking at what will I do with the rest of my life?

In the stillness of the wilderness, having more time to devote to our prayer life, what is it that really matters in life? I can see how far I have to go and as most saints have said as they approached their death – they had hardly begun to live in Christ! Moving here required a huge leap of faith on my part.

I am so glad we are here now – as I was in 1997 when beginning our new life in Christ. I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to focus more of my attention on my prayer life and writing in the quite and stillness of the years of prayers that have made this mountain holy. Even if I cannot attend church due to my physical limitations as often as I would like, God is more closely with us here. May I make good use of the gifts given to me O Lord!

In Christ,

Veronica

Somewhere over the Rainbow…..


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An early summer rainstorm and double rainbow seen from the deck of our new residence, a small home my husband has been building for 9 years on our property overlooking the “Valley of the Dancing Angels (My husband gave this valley that name. When it is a cloudy day wisps of clouds float and dance in the valley resembling dancing angels.)

It has taken us a few months to get somewhat settled in our mountain home. This is where I wrote most of my first book, The Pearl of Great Price. I knew moving here would be challenging on all levels and it has! I was more attached to my life and family in the Bay Area as well as our former our parish than I realized after making the commitment to retire here.  My roots run deep in San Francisco history (wrote about this in the first chapter of my book) and I found before and after our move a deep sense of grief welling up in me at times. I did not want to whine or complain, for what a miracle and privilege it is to be living here thanks to the support of many, yet that is partially how the spiritual attach started about a week after we moved.

A very unseasonable hot spell of 104-107 degrees for several days descended upon us after only two weeks here. We did not yet even have all our hard wired fans in (we are off grid and most of our home is run on DC power with occasional AC for charging things, running our phone and internet connection). We have no land lines or electricity lines on the mountain.  Little things we all take for granted in our normal modern day lives that we did not yet or would not ever have here combined with the heat and how long it takes to sometimes install or get things to work up here added to my frustration. I am too old to be going through this! (I am only 60.)

After 4 days and of course on the Saturday night before Liturgy the next morning – I was ready to jump in the car and run to an air conditioned hotel. The only problem was that it was an hour away and due to my disabilities – I cannot drive that far! I was beside myself.

Our neighbors then told us that summer is the hardest time to live up here due to the heat and desert like feeling of the land during the height of the season. Then what I feared the most happened- my propensity in intense situations to have emotional melt downs, which lead to wanting to escape or run away.  I felt like a caged, enraged animal! Lord have mercy!

Thank God for the saints, confession, Holy Communion, tearful prayers and solar swamp coolers! The combined defensive attack allowed me to I realize that I could give not any room for complaining/whining thoughts – period. “So what if the swamp cooler was not yet installed, so what if you are hot, so is everyone else here Veronica and most have less than you do! Be grateful, pray and take lots of cool showers – you will survive this! Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.”

Since then I have been coming to peace with being here on this holy mountain (we live near a monastery). Greg finally finished installing our first mini swam cooler after the worst of the hot spell – of course – but thank God! The air in our room thanks to the swamp cooler reminds me of the feeling of fog in the air – of my home. Who would have thought! Life here is not perfect, but is is the closest thing to Heaven if I can just remain grateful and prayerful. Glory to God for all things! Stay tuned – I am finally able to write again now that this first spiritual hurdle has been jumped.

In Christ,

Veronica

Elder Paisius of Greece has a new disciple! Recommended reading, The Gurus, the Young Man and Elder Paisius


Bubba and Elder Paisios of Mt. Athos

Our little dog, Bubba, loves to sit on the stairs in our cabin in process in Platina, CA, right above the icon of Elder Paisios of Mt. Athos.

If you would like to read a remarkable book related to Orthodoxy and Eastern Religions and Gurus – in addition to my book – look no further!

My experiences were quite tame in comparison – thank goodness!

Veronica Hughes

The Gurus,
the Young Man
and Elder Paisius

by Dionysius
Farasiotis

This powerful memoir tells the story of a Greek youth who, out of a desire to know the truth empirically, began to experiment in yoga, hypnotism, and various occult techniques. Eventually drawn back to the Faith of his forefathers—Orthodox Christianity—he visited the ancient monastic republic of Mount Athos in his native Greece, where he was brought to a knowledge of the Truth of Jesus Christ by the saintly Elder Paisios (1924–1994). Nevertheless, believing he had only found “part of the truth” on the Holy Mountain, he chose to give the “same opportunity” to Hindu yogis that he had given to Elder Paisios and other Orthodox monks. Thus, at the age of twenty-five, he embarked on a trip to India, where he undertook his search in the ashrams of three famous gurus, one of whom was worshipped as a god. His experiences in India, along with his subsequent encounters with Elder Paisios on Mount Athos, are recounted in the present book in vivid detail.

Popular in Greece since its first publication there in 2001, The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios is a page-turning narrative of both outward adventures and inward struggles. What stands out most in this book, however, is the radiant image of Elder Paisios, possessed of divine gifts, laboring in prayer for his fellow man, and overflowing with unconditional love. Through this, one sees the uncreated Source of the elder’s love and of the author’s spiritual transformation: the true God-man Jesus Christ, Who honors man’s personal freedom while drawing him, through love, into everlasting union with Himself.

Softcover, 320 pages, $17 US
ISBN 978-1-887904-16-2

Historical Comment about the New Age from my You Tube Channel and my response:


Comment:

New Age practices and philosophies sometimes draw inspiration from major world religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Chinese folk religion, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism; with strong influences from East Asian religions, Gnosticism, Neopaganism, New Thought, Spiritualism, Theosophy, Universalism and Western esotericism. The term New Age refers to the coming astrological Age of Aquarius.

My Reply:

This is an accurate summation of the movement. After twenty plus years of spiritual searching in a New Age and Eastern religions and practices, I am so grateful to now be Eastern Orthodox. There were partial truths in all that I participated in, but now I realize that most were a distraction and some were spiritually dangerous! I was slowly being seduced to the dark side in the guise of enlightenment.

By the grace of God my soul was preserved!. The Eastern Orthodox Church is the ancient Church. If one is searching for mystical fulfillment, sound spiritual doctrine and communion with God – all this can be found in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. All else pales in the Light of Christ and His Church.

Veronica Hughes